فصل 09

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فصل 09

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CHAPTER NINE

Freedom

It was a dirty, windy evening and Castroville Street was deep in sticky mud. Adam had his instructions. He counted two houses and nearly missed the third, so high were the bushes in front of it. The paint had long disappeared from the walls and no work had ever been done on the garden. He slowly opened the gate and went up the shaky steps onto the dark porch. The front door opened and a soft voice said, “Won’t you come in?”

The reception room was not well-lit, but Adam could see the shine of polished furniture and gold picture frames. He had a quick impression of richness and order.

The soft voice said, “Do we know you?”

“No, you don’t.”

“Who sent you?” The girl was dressed in black and her face was sharp - pretty and sharp.

“A man at the hotel.”

“Sit down over here. You did come here for something, didn’t you? If you tell me what you want, I’ll tell the right girl.”

“I want to see Kate,” Adam said awkwardly.

“Does she know you?”

“I don’t know.” He felt his courage going. “Would you tell her that Adam Trask wants to see her? She’ll know then whether I know her or not.”

“I see. Well, I’ll tell her.” She moved silently to a door on the right and went in.

Kate sat in a chair behind a desk in her room. She was still pretty and blonde. Her mouth was little and firm, but her cheeks and shoulders had become round. Only her hands had aged, and they were lean and spotted with brown. Her waist was narrow but her legs and feet had thickened. She was dressed severely in a black dress with long sleeves, and the only contrast was a cloud of white lace at her wrists and throat.

“There’s a new one, a stranger,” said the girl in black. “He says his name is Adam Trask.”

Kate sat still as if she held her breath. “Bring him to me,” she said. When the girl had gone, Kate opened the right-hand drawer of her desk and took out a gun. She checked that it was loaded, put it on her desk, and put a piece of paper over it. She turned off one of the lights and sat back in her chair.

A knock came on the door. “Here he is,” said the girl, and closed the door behind Adam. He glanced quickly about before he saw Kate sitting so quietly behind the desk. He stared at her, and then he moved slowly toward her. Her eyes, cold and expressionless, remained on his eyes.

Adam saw her hair, her scar, the loose skin at her throat, her arms and shoulders. He sighed deeply.

Kate’s hand shook a little. She said, “What do you want?”

Adam sat down in a straight chair beside the desk. He wanted to shout with relief but he said, “Nothing now. I just wanted to see you. Sam Hamilton said you were here.”

The moment he sat down, the shake went out of her hand. “Hadn’t you heard before?”

“No, I hadn’t heard.”

“I expected you for a long time, and when you didn’t come I guess I forgot you.”

“I didn’t forget you,” he said. “But now I can.”

Her lips closed and straightened and her eyes narrowed with cruelty. “You think you can?”

“I know I can.”

She changed her manner. “Maybe you won’t have to,” she said. “If you feel all right about everything, maybe we could spend some time together.”

“I don’t think so. I have to go. I just came up to Sam Hamilton’s funeral.”

“I hated him,” she said. “I would have killed him if I could.”

“Why? He was a good man.”

“He pretended to be good, but he was a liar. That’s what I hate, the liars, and they’re all liars.”

Adam’s eyebrows went up. “Do you mean that in the whole world there’s only evil and madness?”

“That’s exactly what I mean. Would you like me to prove it?” She took a pile of brown envelopes from her desk drawer. “Take a look at these,” she said.

“I don’t want to.”

“I’ll show you anyway.” She took out a photograph. “Look there. That’s a state senator. Look at his fat stomach. He likes whips. Look at the expression on his face! He’s got a wife and four kids. Look at this! This piece of white fat is a councilman; this big red Swede has a ranch out near Blanco. Look here! This is a professor at Berkeley!”

“I don’t want to see these,” said Adam.

“Well, you have seen them. And you don’t believe it! I’ll make you beg to get in here!” She tried to force her will on him but she saw that he was free. Her rage turned to poison. “No one has ever escaped,” she said softly.

“I have to go,” said Adam. “I don’t understand. I know, but I can’t believe. But no, it - it can’t be a bad dream - no. Because I remember you are the mother of my sons. You haven’t asked me about them.”

Kate smiled cruelly. “Your sons? I am the mother - but how do you know you are the father?”

Adam’s mouth dropped open. “Cathy, what do you mean?”

“My name is Kate,” she said. “Listen, my darling, and remember. How many times did I let you come near enough to me to have children? Once.”

“You were hurt,” he said. “You were terribly hurt.”

She smiled at him sweetly. “I wasn’t too hurt for your brother.”

“My brother? Charles? You are a devil. I don’t believe it, but it wouldn’t matter - even if it were true.” And suddenly he laughed because he knew that this was so. He moved slowly toward the door.

Kate screamed, “Adam!”

He turned slowly. He smiled at her as a man might smile at a memory. Then he went out and closed the door gently behind him.

Kate sat staring at the door. Her eyes were desperate.

Samuel’s funeral and the talk with Kate should have made Adam sad and bitter, but they did not. He felt young and free as he got off the train in King City. On his drive back to the ranch he saw things he had not noticed for years. He saw the wild flowers in the heavy grass, and he saw the red cows against the hillsides, moving up the paths and eating as they went. Suddenly he found himself saying aloud, “I’m free, I’m free! She’s gone out of me!”

Lee came out of the house to meet Adam. “How was the funeral?”

“Lots of people,” Adam said. “He had lots of friends. Everything all right here?” He noticed that Lee was staring at him. “Put the horse away, Lee, and then come in and make some tea. I want to talk to you.”

Adam stirred his tea and watched the sugar disappear. He said, “I went down to see her.”

“I thought you might,” said Lee. “I don’t know how a human man could have waited so long.”

“Maybe I wasn’t a human man.”

“I thought of that too. How was she?”

Adam said slowly, “I can’t understand it. I can’t believe there is such a creature in the world.”

“Are you all right now?”

“I am all right,” said Adam. “That is what I wanted to talk to you about. I seem to have come out of a sleep. In a strange way my eyes have cleared. I’m free. Do you know what I’m saying?”

“Yes, I know. And I can see it in your eyes and in the way your body stands.” Adam, looking at him, realized that Lee was not a young man anymore.

Lee studied the cup in his hand and his was a memory smile. “Maybe if you’re free, you can free me.”

“What do you mean, Lee? Aren’t you happy here?”

Lee said, “I don’t think any man is happy when there are things undone that he wishes to do.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Well, one thing it’s too late for. I wanted to have a wife and sons of my own. I talked to Mr. Hamilton about the other. I want to open a bookstore in Chinatown in San Francisco.”

Adam sat silently, stirring his tea. “I never thought of you going,” Adam said. “Could you wait a little while?”

“What for?”

“I want you to help me get to know my boys. I want to organize this place, or maybe sell or rent it.”

“Please try not to hold me back because you need me. That’s the worst thing you can do to a lonely man.”

Adam said, “A lonely man? Why didn’t I know that?”

“Mr. Hamilton knew,” said Lee. “I loved Mr. Hamilton. I would like to go to Salinas to visit his grave tomorrow if you will permit it.”

“Do anything you want,” said Adam. “God knows you’ve done enough for me.”

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